Challenging times for all – but how are our children doing?

In these uncertain times, Children’s Parliament blogs for PINS

“We don’t have carpets yet, we don’t have internet and the TV doesn’t work all the time”

Member of Children’s Parliament

All our lives have changed very quickly. A lot of adults are in the news and online saying what it is like for them – at Children’s Parliament we want to share how it is for children too. As we try to establish new ways of being in touch with our Members of Children’s Parliament (MCPs) we have been reflecting with them on changing circumstances – the sudden ending of school, loss of contact with friends, for those with care-experience a potential loss of contact with family, for every child the experience of being mostly indoors. So, how are they doing?

For many children there is an immediate sense of loss of the rhythm and security of school life. Children who were nearing the end of primary and secondary school have felt this most keenly. As one MCP parent told us: “She missed her final p7 send off, she was so upset about it, it’s like she didn’t really finish primary school”. Children are also feeling cut adrift from friends, and as one MCP told us: “I’m ok, just really bored”.

“She missed her final p7 send off, she was so upset about it, it’s like she didn’t really finish primary school”

Parent of Member of Children’s Parliament

For children living with foster or kinship carers there has been a loss of planned contact with parents or other family members. In these circumstances, there can also be concerns about children’s welfare. As one carer told us: “I’m really worried about him, he is so down in his spirits. He’s not been seeing his mum; we are trying to facetime her tomorrow”. From another concerned carer: “She’s stressed though…it happens if she gets out of her routine”.  And as another carer has told us: “They missed out on their contact time because it was cancelled, but we’ve managed to set up WhatsApp and they had some facetime with their mum the other day. They usually have supervised contact with dad, but it needs to be supervised, I’m not that great with technology though”.

“They missed out on their contact time because it was cancelled, but we’ve managed to set up WhatsApp and they had some facetime with their mum the other day.

Carer of Member of Children’s Parliament

Of course, much of the ‘new’ ways we need to do things will be with technology. At Children’s Parliament we are exploring the access needs for our children in order to keep in touch with us, but also of course to connect with learning, friends and fun activities. The reality is that some children do not have what they need. For one child whose family circumstances have changed the reality is: “We don’t have carpets yet, we don’t have internet and the TV doesn’t work all the time”.

Children’s Parliament workers are being told by parents and carers that they have real concerns about their child’s health, access to exercise and worries about keeping to routines, especially when it comes to sleep and access to gaming. Many families do not have access to gardens that are safe and secure and are struggling to put in place boundaries around their child being online. These struggles are particularly acute for families with a child with additional support needs or disabilities.

We also hear about parents and carers and children doing their best – and mucking in together. From one carer: “I’ve the cleanest cupboards in the world!  He’s been cleaning everything, and if he gets too bored, he asks for another cupboard to clean”. 

Finally, with school closures comes the need to address how children can access education. Local Authorities are working out how best to staff and organise learning, but for many of our MCPs – who were possibly already struggling to engage with school and learning – there are real concerns about how they will engage with any new model of educational delivery. Having said that, what is becoming ever clearer to Children’s Parliament staff is that our teaching colleagues, who have love and nurture at the heart of their practice, are tireless in their efforts to make sure the children they care about are happy, healthy and safe. These are just some early reflections. In the coming days we will launch a blog space where children will talk about their experience of the pandemic. With our How are you doing? ( survey and the reflections from our team of MCP bloggers, we will be capturing and sharing experiences and insights from children. It is vital at this time that we acknowledge and learn from children and work together to best understand and continue to consciously do our best to protect and enhance their human rights and wellbeing. Now, more than ever, we need to make children’s rights real.

Stay safe and keep well,
Children’s Parliament

Twitter: @Creative_Voices

Back to school: ‘There are lots of feelings in your tummy’

As the school gates re-open, Children’s Parliament Co-director, Cathy McCulloch OBE, offers five questions to help with reflective practice and reminds us of the importance of staff-learner relationships.

For many children, the summer holidays are something to look forward to, a time filled with family and friends and lots of fun activities and free time. For other children, however, the summer holidays can be stressful; from a lack of structure, time spent with adults who have difficulties or anxieties of their own to not having enough to eat. Anxiety can also build at the prospect of the new school term; thinking about a new class, a new teacher or a move to another school, especially secondary school. Most children benefit from the better attention we give to transitions nowadays, but back at school, on day one, there will be children that need every staff member to be attentive and open to the behaviours that tell us, ‘I’m just not coping‘.  

Across Children’s Parliaments’ programmes, we acknowledge that some children struggle with school. One of our responsibilities is to capture and share their insight with educators. Some of the most powerful work children have produced is about going back to school and moving to secondary school.

There are those first day feelings: “I felt scared, shivery, worried”.  These feelings can change quite quickly: “By the end of the first day I felt more confident about myself”.  There are worries about coping with new systems and ways of doing things: “Getting to classes is really hard”; “I take too long to get ready after PE so I get into trouble”“It’s hard to fit in and be the same as everyone”. For some children, peer relationships in the new bigger secondary school environment are shaped by the fear and experience of violence: “There are so many fights”; “They are not quick enough at stopping fights. There needs to be more staff in the corridors”. 

There seems to be a growing awareness of the centrality of health and wellbeing to learning. At Children’s Parliament, we would wrap this in a view of childhood and education that is rooted in children’s human rights and the core ideas of human dignity, empathy, kindness, trust, and love. If there was ever a time when the mantra it’s all about relationships rings true it is in those first few days back at school: “It can be fun, but it depends on the teacher”. 

There is no denying that back to school might have some feeling of anxiety or dread for the educator too. High demands, feelings of stress, a real need to build personal and professional supports to sustain energy across the year. But as you learn to look after yourself, if you can, take some time to think about these questions.  Make it personal, and even better, do this with your colleagues.  

  • How do I pay attention to what might not be going well for a child? 
  • Do I know what is going well for each child, so that we can build on interests and achievements? 
  • What kind of adult do I need to be, so that a child can come to me with a question or a worry? 
  • Do I recognise and address the emotions or worries that change may bring about for the child? 
  • How is my professional practice informed by non-punitive, positive and restorative approaches? 

All the best to every educator out there. What you do every day matters.  

For more information about children’s views of life at school, Children’s Parliament has many helpful resources online that collate children’s voices from across Scotland, here are links to just a few:

Life at school (Blog post)

What kind of Scotland? Children influencing Scotland’s future (Publication)

Children’s Parliament Investigates Learning (Project)

Twitter: @Creative_Voices


Now that the Ministerial engagement events have drawn to a close (with the final session in Dunoon yesterday, December 5th), it’s worth thinking about both the formal text of the current Education Governance Review, as well as the messages and tone from the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, and Scottish Government officials at the events.

The Engagement events have shown that the intent of the Review is to encourage real reflection on the principles and practices of the Scottish education system. However, the heavy going language of the Review document does present somewhat of a barrier to those stakeholders for whom changes will be most felt – children and young people. In the series of events – a catch up of which can be found through twitter’s #edgovrev – conversations about practitioner’s experience of Scottish education are indeed full and broad. There seems to be a general agreement that the education system does well in serving a lot of learners, but for those whom barriers exist it is not nearly good enough. If we can cut through the formality of the Review consultation questions, we really can get to the nub of the changes we need to make. At the Edinburgh session I recently attended, the focus needed was identified as being on the child’s experience of school and learning, from 3 to 18.

Excellence and equity matter – but we need to engage children, young people and communities in what these concepts mean to them. So when we think of excellence and equity, we need to ask questions like:

Why do some children struggle at school?
What would an excellent school be like?
What would a school be like if everyone had the same opportunities – and no-one was left behind?

On the Pupil Inclusion Network site there are links to various bits of information about the Education Governance Review – Yes, there are 17 formal questions asked, but you don’t need to answer them all! And in those questions, there are issues that children, young people, parents and carers need to express their views on.

Colin Morrison
PINS Co-ordinator